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Troy Cassar-Daley Navigates Grief, Loss on the Dreamy ‘Between the Fires’

The country star tells Rolling Stone AU/NZ about how he made his 12th album, his most personal recording yet

Troy Cassar-Daley


On Between the Fires, the 12th and latest album from Troy Cassar-Daley, the country great explored grief, and the full spectrum of emotions that come with loss.

And he came home.

Between the Fires is Cassar-Daley’s most personal recording yet, shaped by the devastating loss of both parents in recent years, and cut at the home of his late mother.

There’s a beauty and a sadness to the collection, which arrived on Friday, May 10th. Following the death of his mother, with whom he had a deep connection, Cassar-Daley navigated the grief, channelled it. He set up camp at the old family home in Halfway Creek, on Gumbaynggir country where his mum lived out her life, and his nan before her, set up a recording studio and got to work.

Cassar-Daley lived in the house on and off from the ages of eight to 20. Tucked away in northern New South Wales, about 50 kilometres north west of Coffs Harbour, the family home is a place to relax and debrief. Here, the black snakes keep the brown snakes in check. The only thing keeping the grass from creating impenetrable cover for those reptiles is an old hand mower, which Cassar-Daley works from time to time.

On a brief visit to the old home, he has cropped a patch, roughly the size of an inner-city Sydney dwelling, to play like a bowling green.

Now 54, the celebrated artist was on the ‘Together Alone Tour’ with his friend Ian Moss in July 2022 when he found out his mother, Irene, had passed away in her sleep at the family home. It’s taken a year to get past the sorry business, he tells Rolling Stone AU/NZ. Mowing, he says, is “like therapy.” The land, well, it “loves you back. You’ve just got to let it.”

Cassar-Daley got on the phone to Jeff McCormack, with whom he has built musical history and trust as a bass player and engineer, then dialled up Scott Hills (drums), Michael Moko (guitars, mandolin), and Ollie Thorpe (steel guitar), with young engineer Jordan Power in support.

A lot of people said “no” at the start of this project, but Cassar-Daley placed trust in the process and his team. It helped that he felt completely comfortable at Halfway Creek. “I’m on my country. I’m at my most peaceful here.”

The songs kept falling out of the guitar, the first of which was “Good and Bad”. In between the fires were arguments, too. Grief is tangible. The album’s title track is about trial and tribulation. A fire at home, and one at the old house.

Making music has been “a real saviour for me,” he says.

Music wasn’t the only thing Cassar-Daley cooked up at the old home. He presented three or four of his mum’s signature dishes for the whole crew, homestyle cooking passed down through the generations. The recording sessions were completed in two weeks.

If one third of the album captures “pretty heavy grief and getting over that,” Cassar-Daley notes, there are separate musical treks into the wilderness, including “Windradyne” and the lead single “Let’s Ride”, featuring the vocals of Kasey Chambers, which he recently premiered at the 52nd Golden Guitar Awards, an annual ceremony from which he has accumulated an all-time record of 40 trophies.

A dreamy texture runs through the album, a spiritual touch perhaps. “Dreams” opens with the cry of a curlew, which Cassar-Daley captured on his phone. The bird showed up soon after his mum had died. He hadn’t seen one since his youth.

Music is in the Cassar-Daley DNA. His late father, a Maltese man, could sing. His mum housed an exceptional record collection (“the record player, that was our entertainment”). The country star boasts a tattoo on his right inner forearm of Jem, his daughter with wife Laurel Edwards, the TV and radio personality. (Just last month, Jem collected Song of the Year at the Queensland Music Awards, an honour that comes with a permanent plaque in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley.)

Ahead of release, Cassar-Daley closed the circle with a special presentation of some new works for a small group of guests, performed on the front deck of the old home. “I never thought I’d get to perform songs from these steps. It’s so bizarre,” he remarked.

On reflection, Cassar-Daley admits over a coffee in east Brisbane, he was nervous inviting new folks to the home. “But it also made me proud to think that you’re coming down to see a project that I’ll never be able to emulate again.”

He’ll perform those songs in more conventional venues when he embarks on a 33-date tour from May through to November in support of the new album.

Going back to the old home, a place filled with so many memories, was symbolic. And to make a record there, in a spot that was once a family thoroughfare, “it was just obvious after a while that’s where I needed to be.”

Life is filled with challenges and lessons. Cold Chisel master songwriter Don Walker inspired Cassar-Daley to grow as a songwriter, and as a lyricist, the proof of which is woven into Between the Fires. “There are a lot of lessons on this record. To me, I just wanted to give myself some light. The record is who I was. I was down, I was up. Some days were better than others.”

There have been moments when Cassar-Daley studied the record and thought, “I’d made my biggest sad, sad piece of shit that I’ve ever made in my life. And I love it. And I know people who have been anywhere near what I’ve been through too, will love it too.”

Troy Cassar-Daley’s Between the Fires is out now via Sony Music Australia.